Tour de force

Archbishop amazed by all that pope accomplished


Q. The secular press is calling Pope Benedict’s visit an “unmitigat- ed success.” Would you agree?

A. Absolutely. I’m glad to able to agree with the secular press. I think it was a remarkable visit. It is incredible, I think, how many things the Holy Father was able to accomplish during his few days in the United States.

Q. They are also crediting the way he tackled the sexual abuse crisis head-on as instrumental in that success. Were you surprised that he took that tack?

A. I wouldn’t say surprised, but I agree with the press. I agree he faced the issue and confronted the issue, as he needed to. He expressed his own deep shame about what had happened — his own sadness that representatives of the church could harm young people entrusted to their care.

And he showed a real concern and compassion for the victims. I think those were the necessary messages — as well as his message . . . to the bishops that it is a moment for renewal of the church and renewal of the priesthood, and we need to grow in holiness. We need not many priests, but good priests. We would like to have many good priests, but the most important thing is that we have good and holy priests.

Q. Do you think this trip will help bring some closure to the American church on this issue?

A. Hopefully it will take us to a  new moment. And the Holy Father said what we can’t do is lessen our efforts to make sure that the church is the safest environment for our children. So I think it is a moment to recommit to all the things that have been done in recent years to protect children.

Q. What papal events did you attend?

A. I was at the White House welcoming reception, the address to the bishops at the National Shrine, the Mass at Nationals Stadium, the Mass at St. Patrick’s Cathedral, the youth rally at the seminary in Yonkers, and the Mass at Yankee Stadium.

Q. How would you describe the pope — both physically and otherwise?

A. I think for an 81-year-old man, his physical stamina is remarkable, and his intellectual capacity and his wisdom are just wonderful. I think these just captivated so many people. I was listening to one of the secular news programs last night, and one of the commentators — not a Catholic — said when you look at the two popes that the Catholic Church has had recently, you have to say that the College of Cardinals has done a pretty good job of selecting leadership. He said maybe we ought to look to that in our country.

Q. Had you met him before as Cardinal Ratzinger, and if so, did he seem the same or different now that he’s the supreme pontiff?

A. I would say in many ways there was no difference. When I met him, he had a gentleness — which he still exudes — a depth of spirituality, and an intellectual capacity that’s remarkable. The one way that the papacy has seemed to affect him is that he is by nature an introvert, but he seems to really stretch himself in trying to make himself available to people and communicate with people. . . . He’s really developed a great ability to relate with crowds and to inspire and motivate them.

Q. You met Pope John Paul II several times as well. How did Pope Benedict impress you by comparison? How were they similar and how were they different? 

A. I think they’re similar in the most important ways. Both of them manifest a deep spirituality and a deep life of prayer — this remarkable personal relationship [with God], which is the anchor of their lives.

The difference would be in their personality. Pope John Paul was an actor before he went into the seminary, so he had long-acquired skills of communication.

And in some ways, what we saw with Pope Benedict was that Pope John Paul really created this environment of great love and affection for the pope by his many pastoral visits and travels. I’m not sure that Pope Benedict himself would have been able to do that, but I think he’s able now to continue what Pope John Paul called himself — a missionary pope.

And I think Pope Benedict’s visit here shows he’s also able to be that missionary pope — to bring the Gospel to every part of the world.

Q. There were some powerful images to come out of Pope Benedict’s visit to the United States. Which do you think will stick with you the longest?

A. I think his going out to the young people at the youth rally. The runways that came out to the stage, how he descended the steps several times to show his affection for the young persons involved in that. And then to see, in a sense, a reflection of the Holy Father’s impact as you looked at the faces of the young people — just how joyful and moved they were by his presence. I think that will be an image I will take away that I’ll never forget.

Q. Any surprises for you during the visit?

A. One of the things that was surprising was the number of people that lined Fifth Avenue to see him in the popemobile. It was amazing to see that outpouring of average people in New York City. Washington and New York, in their own ways, have the reputation of being hard cities and being jaded — not easily impressed.

So it was beautiful to see how everyone you ran into was moved and captivated by the Holy Father’s visit. I just found the people in Washington and New York so warm and receptive — much different than what you usually hear. They were just caught up in the beauty and importance of what was happening in their cities.

Q. What do you feel was the pope’s main message to the American bishops? Did you come away from the week affirmed, inspired, or exhausted?

A. I think much of what he said during the visit specifically to the bishops was an affirmation. He specifically talked about the importance of our pastoral priority for marriage and family, and I found that very affirming of what the bishops’ conference is doing — particularly serving [as I do] on the committee that’s working on our initiative to strengthen marriages and families.

He also talked to us about the importance of catechesis, and doing everything we can to hand on the faith in its integrity and fullness to our people [through] good Catholic education and formation programs. He commended us for things that are already happening, but I think the challenge there again was what we need to do more of.

And he came back at the end of his address to the bishops [to conclude that] we need to find ways to communicate better the joy of life in Christ — that the church has this great gift that it has been entrusted to offer to all people. So it also confirmed the need for more intensified evangelization that shares the gift of our faith with as many as we can.

Q. What do you think will be the most lasting effect of Pope Benedict’s visit on American Catholics? Did he issue a clear “call to action”?

A. I think that he’s helped give us the opportunity for a renewal within the church. I think there was a great pride that Catholics felt in the way the Holy Father represented them to our nation. So I think that there’s a great opportunity to build on that.

And I think his message to young people particularly — calling them to seek Christ’s will in their lives above everything else — I think it’s going to have a big impact on the young people who were privileged enough to be there to be exposed to it. I’m so glad all of our seminarians were able to be there, and I think it was a great message for them.

Q. Is there anything you’d like to add or any question I should have asked but didn’t?

A. One of the things I think the visit illustrated was [that] when we gather together as a people of faith, what a beauty and power there is in that. And I think we as a community will have an opportunity to do that on May 25 with the gathering at Kauffman Stadium.

I know a lot of people in the archdiocese weren’t able to participate in the pope’s visit physically, but we do have this very special opportunity on May 25 — not to gather around the vicar of Christ, but [with] Christ himself at Kauffman Stadium.

So I’m hoping some of the graces that people experienced in New York and Washington in a very direct way we’re going to experience on May 25.

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